Athens prostitutes back at work

Athens’ prostitutes called off a strike yesterday after authorities suspended for a fortnight their drive to shut down 15 brothels for being too close to schools and churches. «Any prostitute who likes can go back to work or on holiday now,» Elisa Kolovou, spokeswoman for the prostitutes’ union KEGE, told AFP. Municipal officials had been attempting since Monday to enforce a city hall decision to shut down 15 brothels for violating a 1999 law on prostitution. But a crowd of prostitutes prevented them from pulling down the shutters on all but two. Municipal officials said they were suspending the closures until September. «If we had insisted (on closing the brothels now) there would have been unpleasant consequences,» Athens Deputy Mayor Ira Valsamaki told the Ethnos daily. During the protests, KEGE officials had threatened to throw themselves off a balcony of one of the illegal brothels. Prostitution is legal in Greece, but since 1999 has been limited to brothels where a maximum of three people can be employed and which must not be close to schools or churches. In two weeks, KEGE will resume talks with the Interior Ministry on easing the 1999 law, which prostitutes say is very hard to observe. The authorities began their crackdown in a bid to more strictly enforce the 1999 law ahead of the 2004 Olympics. But KEGE complains the authorities do not show the same zeal in cracking down on the much larger number of unregistered, illegal prostitutes active in Greece. Non-governmental organizations put their figure at around 30,000, most of whom are illegal immigrants. Only 700 registered prostitutes work in some 200 brothels in central Athens. In the greater Athens area they total up to 1,500. Some 5,000 are registered throughout Greece. (AFP)